The Viking Ships in Oslo

On our recent trip to Oslo in March we probably spent the majority of our time in museums (you can see the first few in this post). One of the highlights for us definitely has to be the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy. The museum itself is pretty simple, as it mostly just consists of a large hall with three quite different viking ships inside. As the starting point and the centrepiece is the magnificent Oseberg ship. After probably spending quite some time staring at this first ship in awe you’ll find the Gokstad ship and Tune ship behind and to the left and right. Finally at the back of the hall you’ll see the wealth of artifacts that came with the ships and another ship find at Borre. There are plenty of grave goods, as the Oseberg and Gokstad were burial ships.

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The Gokstad is slightly larger than the Oseberg, which is slightly larger than the Tune, but all three appear to be the same type of ship known as ‘karvi’ from the sagas which were relatively small vessels meant for the private use of chieftains and their followers for cruising along the coasts. The Oseberg appears to be more in the style of a pleasure vessel for use in good weather on closed waters, whereas the other two are more in the nature of sea-going vessels.

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The excavation of the ships in this museum took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the latest being the Oseberg in 1904. For a long time since then these three examples were to remain the only full remains of the Viking Age shipwright’s craft. However, this eventually did change when in 1962 a significant finding was made in the Roskilde Fjord in Denmark where five ships had been sunk as part of a blockade of a channel that led to Roskilde. These ships are now restored and on display in the museum in Roskilde. In 1970 another addition was made to the Viking Age ships that exist today when remains were recovered from an excavation at Tjølling in Vestfold. This ship has also been preserved and restored, and is now on display at the Vestfold County Museum in Tønsberg. Thus in the course of a few years the number of known and more or less preserved ships from the Viking Age has increased threefold. This has added considerably to our knowledge of the building and use of ships in the Viking Age. These finds give a wide range in terms of geographical location and time, and there is now known to be far more variation in methods of ship-building and types of ship than previously found in written or artistic sources. Hopefully with the increasing interest in ancient ships and improving techniques in modern underwater archaeology there will be more Viking ship finds in the future, despite the rare conditions required to preserve a ship in any state.

The Oseberg Ship
The excavation of the Oseberg find took place during the summer of 1904 on the Oseberg farm at Slagen near Tønsberg. The archaeologist leading this work was Professor Gabriel Gustafson of the University of Oslo. The ship and its burial chamber had been covered by a very large grave mount of 44 metres in diameter and 6 metres high. The amount of tightly packed turf and clay that formed the soil around the ship was fairly air-tight and kept the wood and organic material of the ship in a remarkable state of preservation for more than a thousand years.

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However, the ship and its contents had not gone entirely undisturbed all through time, as is common with large barrows. At some point, probably early in the Medieval period, robbers had broken into the mound, made a hole in the bow of the ship and made their way into the burial chamber. The grave itself was therefore found greatly disturbed and most of the contents were found in the entrance made by the robbers. The ship itself was also in a poor state when first excavated. At the time of its burial it had been filled with a large quantity of stone, the weight of which had pressed the ship into the ground and eventually broken it into thousands of small fragments of wood. This meant that the entire ship had to be taken and practically rebuilt from all these parts.

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The ship and burial chamber contained a large amount of goods still. First there were the ship’s accessories and equipment including oars, a gangway, a bailer, and various tubs and pails. There were also some richly decorated pieces such as a cart, three sleighs and a sled. There were four finely carved animal head posts, three beds and two tents. Inside there were the skeletons of at least ten horses, and several other horses and an ox outside the ship. In the entrance made by the grave robbers there lay the remains of two human skeletons, both women, that were most likely laid upon the beds to begin with. There were large quantities of textile remnants and down and feathers that must have come from the bedding. There were also a number of chests and personal objects of the dead such as implements for textile work. It us unusual however that there were no traces of jewelry with the dead, especially considering that this is the richest grave of its kind to be discovered. It is almost certainly the jewelry that the robbers would have been seeking, so they most likely took it.

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The ship itself was reconstructed once it was fully excavated, and was eventually in a more or less finished state by 1926 with some new material being necessary for its completion. The ship is made entirely of oak, along with some of the other objects in the find, and thus they could all be preserved using the same methods. It’s full length is 21.58 metres, it measures 5.10 metres at its widest point, and its depth from gunnel to keel is 1.58 metres in the middle. Apart from a full height of the mast, the ship now appears in this complete condition at the Viking Ship Museum.

The Gokstad Ship
The Gokstad sip was excavated in the summer of 1880 on the land of the Gokstad farm in the borough of Sandefjord. Like the Oseberg it had also been covered by a very large barrow of 50 metres across and 5 metres in height, and thought to originally have been larger. Archaeologist and antiquarian Nicolay Nicolaysen was responsible for this excavation. The mound had been made of a mix of clay and sand, and the ship was filled with clay, meaning a similarly excellent condition of preservation as the Oseberg find. Some parts of the ends of the ship that were not fully covered by the clay did completely decay however.

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The burial chamber of this ship contained a fair amount less than the Oseberg. There were some good remnants of wool and silk, probably from clothing of the dead and part of the remains of a bed. There was also a gaming board with one antler gaming piece, some leather which may have been a purse, a socketed iron point, the clasp of a casket and three iron fishing hooks together with a large number of harness mounts in iron lead and bronze. Outside the chamber were a number of objects such as buckets and pots, a cauldron and some timbers. A strange find was the remains of a skeleton and some plumage of a peacock. Outside the ship itself were the remains of several horses and dogs, the ship’s equipment such as oars, tiller, rope, the rusted away remains of the anchor and some kitchen utensils. Some of the larger objects were the remains of six beds, three small boats and one sleigh. Finally some of the metal objects included a large copper cauldron, and some iron implements including two augers, a palstave and a small axe blade.

This burial appeared to be for a man by the remains of the one human skeleton found inside the burial chamber. However, this grave had also been subject to plundering, but probably closer to the time of burial than the Oseberg, so presumably more appears to have been taken. Usually a Viking Age man’s grave, especially a large ship burial, would contain plenty of weapons, as well as some jewelry.

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As said before the Gokstad is slightly larger than the Oseberg. This ship was built for 16 pairs of oars whereas the Oseberg was built for 15. It’s length is 23.24 metres, its maximum width is 5.20 metres, and depth from gunnel to keel is 2.02 metres. The weight of the hull when fully equipped is estimated to be at over 20 metric tons based on an exact copy made of the ship in 1893. In addition to the larger dimensions the Gokstad ship also has a more study construction than the Oseberg, making it more seaworthy, demonstrated by the sailing of its copy across the Atlantic.

Like the Oseberg, along with the other parts of the exhibition, this ship can be found in a complete state at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. If you ever find yourself near there, then I definitely recommend you go see them!

 

Bygdøy Museums in Oslo: 4 Exhibitions in 1 day

Welcome to another post related to our recent trip to the Norwegian capital! Today I will be giving you a quick review and visit to these 4 fantastic museums that are all placed in the peninsula of Bygdøy. You can get there either by boat service or on the bus, takes about 10-20 minutes from Oslo’s city centre depending on the method of transport that you take and the time of the day. These are the museums Alex and I wanted to see, but there are some more, so you could certainly get 2 days worth of visits in this area if you really wanted – we simply did not have time for the Holocaust Centre or the Maritime Museum! Now, I appreciate that 4 museums in one day seems like a lot, but do not let this scare you away, they are all actually not very big museums at all. And if you are willing to stretch the area of Bygdøy to a 2 day affair, then you can spread them out even more.

Let me give you a breakdown of our schedule for that day: Viking Ship Museum dead on the opening hour at 10:00 am, we finished there around 11:30 am, and walked for a couple of minutes to the Norwegian Folk Museum. We were done there by after lunch, around 1:oo pm roughly. Then we headed for the waterfront and decided we had time to see the Fram Museum, where we spent a little bit more than an hour. Finally we landed next door to the Kon Tiki Museum right before 3, having an hour exactly until the museum closed – we did not miss anything terribly important, apart from the film showing of the Oscar-winning documentary, for which they have specific shows during the day. In any case, the visit were not overwhelming (this was Alex’s judgement, not mine! He is the saner one, you can trust him), and the ship thematic really worked well, highlighting the individual contexts and really bringing forward how important boats have been for the Norwegian nation throughout all of history, and for different purposes. Now I wont go mad, expect a few pictures, videos and text reviewing out experience. In any case, I hope you get if nothing else a glimpse of a very interesting cultural enterprise!

Viking Ship Museum

I could not be happier than seen the fascinating viking age ships that have made such a deep mark in historiography – I was there, and with the ones from Denmark, this is all something I can tick off the list of things to do in life. The museum itself is not very big, and it does not have loads of material in exhibition, or explanatory panels, but to be honest – if you’re here is because you want to see the ships, and they are totally work the visit. This will only be a teaser as I have plans for a combo update with the ships of Roskilde too, so here you go:

Oseberg burial ship, in all its glory.
Oseberg burial ship, in all its glory.

It was incredibly difficult to photograph the boats with my incredibly poor equipment – aka my phone – so I decided at some point that video was useful – my comments and difficult for words show how boggled I was at this. Vid. 1 – Gokstad. Vid.2 – new museum competition.

Thinking about the future! Conscious effort of preserving the past, which I prominently saw all across different museums in Oslo.
Thinking about the future! Conscious effort of preserving the past, which I prominently saw all across different museums in Oslo.
One of the carved head posts from the burials at Oseberg and Gokstad.
One of the carved head posts from the burials at Oseberg and Gokstad.
One of the burial wagons - simialr to those from the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen.
One of the burial wagons – similar to those from the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen.

All in all a fantastic place, but I would recommend now, knowing that they are planning on remodelling soon, that you wait and visit when that is sorted. Unless you are dying to go, in which case hurry up!

Norwegian Folk Museum

This was a very pleasant visit – very similar style and idea to the Open Air Museum in Copenhagen, but with more exhibitions. They have 2 buildings with small exhibits regarding local history about the Saami, the history of regional costume, and other items from Norway’s history from a domestic, rural and cultural point of view. This place has much more activity during the summer months – they have daily activities and different areas of the museum open. Some places were being improved or restored so I would suggest this may be better suited for warmer seasons. In any case, it was very quaint.

Displays from the Saami exhibition.
Displays from the Saami exhibition.

Buildings from the reconstructed Old Town.

Buildings from the reconstructed Old Town.

The Starve Church - my main reason for oming to this place. Absolutly glorious.
The Starve Church – my main reason for coming to this place. Absolutely glorious.

Fram Museum

Considered the best museum in Norway (period), this was not scheduled but as we had some time spare, we decided we should not go without seeing it. The museum is dedicated to the Norwegian expeditions to both poles, and I must say that, although it is really not my area of expertise, it was a great experience. I have taped most of our interaction in the museum, simply because it was fairly difficult due to the layout to take decent pictures. In addition, the museum is very modern in its approach to the story it tells so taping it allowed me to reflect this a bit better. I have to say, as a piece of contextualisation and suiting purpose to the materials displayed, is probably one of the best museums I have been in the last few years that achieves this greatly. The actual Fram ship is the centre piece o the exhibition – inside it there are displays from cabinets and objects within the boat, while the 3 levels created around the ship talk about the different expeditions. They even have an area dedicated for children to feel like a pole explorer. Overall, this museum gets a 5 star rating. And on a last comment, the museum shop is absolutely terrific, with some great books on the subject which are difficult to find elsewhere – so if you stop by, do consider taking some of those gems home with you.

The Fram.
The Fram.
Example of the varied displays from the museum, these metal sheets creating timelines and conecting pictures really bring forward the information while keeping some sort of modern nautical spirit.
Example of the varied displays from the museum, these metal sheets creating timelines and connecting pictures really bring forward the information while keeping some sort of modern nautical spirit.

The Kon-Tiki Museum

This is a museum that every humanist should visit – in my very modest opinion. This is the story of a man who did not give up his theory and vision despite the odds and the criticisms. This is the story of a man who even put his life at risk to proof a valid point regarding the interactions between the people in South America and the Pacific Islands, and beyond. Thor Heyerdahl, man and legend, and the work of a life time, all neatly displayed in this museum, with no ostentation, and no oversimplification of the matter, which is not easily achieved. The man who picked a raft boat and proved his peers wrong, or at least created reasonable doubt. If you can make it for the documentary showing, I am sure you would not regret it – unfortunately we could not make it, which I regret. But in any case the museum is worth a visit, they have the preserved balsas that Thor got made for his historical experiments, as well as some information regarding his involvement in the Easter Island archaeological excavation. This is not only a biographical piece about the man, but also a top piece of ethnographic, anthropological and archaeological research in a subject perhaps not very prominent in Europe.

Ra II - the boat with which Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in 1970 trying to prove that there could have been a cultural interaction between the old mediterranean cultures such as Egypt the Americas.
Ra II – the boat with which Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in 1970 trying to prove that there could have been a cultural interaction between the old mediterranean cultures such as Egypt the Americas.
The Kon Tiki expedition balsa.
The Kon Tiki expedition balsa.
Displays from the museum - the pannels are concise but present enough information. The objects perhaps are not displayed in the best way, but it works.
Displays from the museum – the panels are concise but present enough information. The objects perhaps are not displayed in the best way, but it works.

And that is all for today folks – I hope these brief looks at these 4 amazing exhibitions gets your wanderlust going so you embark in your own cultural expedition to Norway. See you in the next update!

Oslo’s Artistic Highlights: featuring Vigeland and Munch

Welcome to a post inspired by our recent trip to Oslo! Just like a few months back after my expedition to Denmark, we will be featuring a series of blog posts created from the material collected from the trip – And I say we as Alex was my partner in crime this time. I have decided to open with this post as it was one of the features of this Norwegian capital that striked me most. Oslo is full, ridden almost with art galleries and collections of all sorts! In the short span of time we had, there was only so much we could see  (and as you all know Alex and art are not an expected combo). However, I could not leave without seeing works on these 2 iconic artists. From one side of the city to the other – quite literally – I bring you this post, including photos of my own, a couple of videos (excuse my terrible pulse!) as well as reviews when appropriate. I hope you enjoy it!

Vigeland Park

Vigeland Park - at the Monolith
Vigeland Park – at the Monolith

Originally known as Frogner park, this site now is the living work of Gustav Vigeland, dare I say one of the most influential (if not the most) Norwegian sculptors of the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries. Vigeland’s amazing creativity birthed hundreds of creations, including the design for the Nobel Peace Prize. We ought the existence of the park in it current due to the demolishing of Vigeland’s house by the city of Olso in 1921 – after the confrontation between the artist and the city council they provided him with a new building where to work and live. In exchanged he promised that he will donate all his works from there on to the city. Shortly afterwards, Vigeland decided to relocate to the borough of Frogner, where he envisioned the perfect spot for his fountain. He had been thinking for a while on the exhibition of his work in public and out in the open, and so his wishes were granted.

Vigeland's fountain at the centre of the park
Vigeland’s fountain at the centre of the park

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However his installation at Frogner was perhaps his most controversial piece of work. Many of his contemporaries compared his work to that of the Nazis monumental art and aesthetic Arian values. It probably did not help that he did proclaim himself quite happy of the Nazi puppet government in Oslo during the Third Reich.

Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors
Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors
Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland
Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland

His old studio and apartment became the Vigeland museum – right next to the park – at the time of his death. That was, after all, the agreement he had reached with the City of Oslo. If you are in Oslo, at any point, the park is really worth a visit – this is just a sample of my pictures there, it is truly otherworldly and such a feat – if I did not know better, I’d say it’s the work of giants.

Nasjonalgalleriet – ascending to Vigeland and Munch

This stop is compulsory – you must visit the National Gallery at Oslo. The National Gallery is part of the huge complex known as the Nasjonalmuseet, which encompasses several buildings, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, all part of the concept behind the National Museum. The permanent exhibition at the National Gallery is called the Dance of Life (after Munch’s work), and also it is not massive, it includes pieces that you’d struggle to find elsewhere. In addition, I would like to say that the conceptualization of the pieces was very well achieved, just like I felt at the National Gallery in Copenhagen. The exhibition is divided in 4 sections: art from the antiquity to the baroque, Romanticism, from impressionism to Munch, culminating with modernism until the 1950s. I will give you a brief look of the pieces I found that I appreciated most – after all, art is personal.

The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutly beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutely beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Compulsory multiple shots at the “Masters Room” – this are all the pieces donated to the gallery by Christian Langaard, who was an important art collector without whose contribution, the gallery would have not been able to obtain some of these pieces. He died in 1922, and the room was constitutes in 1924.

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Tapestry from the master tapestry makers of this time period – the Gobelins (France).

 

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I would recognise this anywhere even possibly with my eyes closed – if it’s something I appreciate of my Spanish heritage is the great art produced in Iberia, and this is from El Greco (or someone in his school). Produced 1541-164. Jesus Christ Stripped of his Garments. The art style is something unique, and difficult to reproduce – the man had an issue with his eye sight so his paintings are certainly quirky.

Moving on to the Romanticism, here is a selection of my photographs.
You may recognised this guy from my trip to Denmark - Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.
You may recognise this guy from my trip to Denmark – Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.
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IMAG1721_BURST002 Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857): the hero of Norwegian painting. He was the first Norwegian painter to reach international fame for his work. The smaller piece really got me – the cracks in the paint kind of add to the somber, gothic landscape, like if it was intentional. Age has only helped this painting even more. Dresden by Moonlight (1838).

Now, on to Impressionism and Modernism.

I brought a print of the painting on the right home - it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).
I brought a print of the painting on the right home – it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).
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This requires no words of course – it is what I came for.

This is a short video at Munch’s room – I know the comment is rather superfluous but it was so quiet, I felt bad just talking normally.

Leaving the museum, I could not skip the Picasso’s and abstract paintings…

Picasso - Guitar and glass 1911.
Picasso – Guitar and glass 1911.

 

Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction - cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.
Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction – cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.

 Munch Museum

It saddens me to say that this was the most disappointing visit of the entire trip. And I will explain you why. As you have seen above, the National Gallery is in ownership of Munch’s most famous pieces – he did after all leave all his work to the city of Oslo as part of his testament, so it is the city’s right to dis play the pieces as they may. But Munch was a very prolific artists. He did not only paint, but also practiced wood carvings, print making, and indulged in sketching. He also experimented with photography. So I was aware, there would be a repository for all the rest, at Munch museum. However it appears that the way the gallery there works is the following: they use Munch’s pieces as permanent exhibit, and display them usually in correlation to another artist, highlighting thematic, concepts and evolution – which is wonderful. However, it seems I was unlucky, for the composition during my visit was Mapplethorpe + Munch. Unfortunately for Mr Mapplethorpe, I am not a huge fan, and although I appreciate his work, I failed to agree with the comparisons produced by the gallery. They tried to compare a 1980s photographer with a serious agenda on sexuality, and more precisely homosexuality, with a man who talked about life, and the world around us, and people – and of course touched on the subject of nudity, bodies and sexuality, but nowhere near in the same degree or with the same intention! To my disappointment there was a lot of Mapplethorpe’s work, and little Munch in contrast – Mapplethorpe as a photographer has a huge portfolio, regardless of how many Munch pieces exist. But it was not all bad. I got to see some very interesting pieces – see the photos and video below.

Dance of Death - Munch's lithograph, 1916.
Dance of Death – Munch’s lithograph, 1916.

 

Munch - Mystical Shore print (1897).
Munch – Mystical Shore print (1897).

*I am afraid the video is interrupted as my phone run out of battery! However I thought you ought to see what I could film*

One last thing to show you before I sign off, is the last pieces of Munch’s art which I was hoping to see here. Munch made a series of monumental friezes for the University of Oslo. I thought they would be exposed out in the open – what was my surprised that I had to get in and out of the exhibition twice to realise they were locked behind doors in a conference room! But, in any case, I managed to take a couple of pictures – despite there is a bit of reflection, they are so worth it.

Alma Mater
Alma Mater

 

The Sun - like nothing I've ever seen before.
The Sun – like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I tried hard to take a good shot of History, but from that angle is was very difficult. I suspect the reason why they are locked has to do with preservation issues, which is a shame because those beauties deserve an entire audience just for themselves.

And with this we come to an end of this first piece on Oslo’s interesting history and heritage. Drop by for some more shortly!

Icons of Danish Heritage (pt.2) – Trelleborg

This is the continuation of https://nuhistory.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/icons-of-danish-heritage-pt-1-kronborg-castle/ . As you may remember, October 2015 was the time when I went off to Denmark and consumed history and culture with every meal of the day – quite literally. So, today we are off to pretty much the other side of Zealand. We leave lovely Copenhagen, to take an hour train journey, followed by a 20 minutes bus ride that will leave us in the middle of nowhere – for real – to go down some country roads for half an hour, up until the moment we reach the incredible site that is Trelleborg.

Entrance to the historical center
Entrance to the historical center

Now, if you remember the point of this update is to highlight this site as an icon of Danish heritage and history, but more importantly, a site of power. Trelleborg, like Kronborg, was in its day a Viking Age fortress. There are only 3 others in all of Denmark, and Trelleborg is, by far and large, the best preserved of the lot. There are no contemporary written sources that mention these fortresses, so the most accurate way to date them, is by archaeological methods, as well as by using dendrochronological dating of the wooded remains found on site. The results suggest that these date back to the 10th century, which is crucial for the recognition of Trelleborg as a sign of power. Why you ask? Well, this is the time when Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark was trying to establish his authority over his lands. Potentially, one could argue that these ring-shaped bastions were used by the king as means to keep the locals under control, therefore avoiding struggles with neighbouring magnates, or rather sending a very clear message: here be a Norse lord of might. Certainly, the message was not received with arms wide open…We all know that his own son Sweyn Forkbeard decided he did not like his father’s attitude much and led a rebellion to overthrown him. Sweyn thus succeeded and Harald was killed in battle. now, I realise that this may leave the story in a fairly gloom tone and it may seem defeatist, but I think it does nothing but reinforce the point. Trelleborg was a commendable effort for a great king to show, that even in an area full of quarrels and tension, one could establish some order, even though temporary. More importantly – and this is something your should be able to admire in the pictures – this site left a very visible mark in the landscape. Harald’s legacy was to stay put as if carved in stone.

There are maps dating from the 17th century and later periods in Danish history, where the fortress is clearly delineated. The excavations and investigations on site begun in 1934, lead by Poul Nørlund. The work carried for 9 years, where the completed the full rehabilitation of both the inner and outer circle. They left cement markers as well for the original standing place of the buildings and wooden structures that would have been visible a thousand years earlier. Then, in 1942 the proceeded with the recreation of the long house that still stands today and that is currently used by the re-enactors that populate the historical center.

The reconstructed long house from 1942
The reconstructed long house from 1942

This construction is highly regarded amongst academics in the field as the first accurately and scientifically built structure from the distant past. I cannot emphasise enough how the work in Trelleborg is not only conservation, but preservation and perpetuation of living history, within its original context – and still in the middle of nowhere. I would like to point out that the house was restored in the 1980s, and has been considered to be now not as accurate as originally thought, but for a first effort, I think we will let that one go.

So what does currently happen in Trelleborg? Essentially they have turned it into a reenactment park. Therefore you have the interpretation center, where the hold a small but very informative and well presented exhibition of the fortress, the archaeological excavation, its finds and the its context.

Displays of the exhibition contestualising Viking Age every day life - as an example are the garments
Displays of the exhibition conceptualising Viking Age every day life – as an example are the garments

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They also have one of the most amazing finds of all Denmark – the only preserved Viking shield from Denmark. This completely round wooden shield was found during the excavations of 2008. The results suggest that it was made in Norway during the 900s. I was amazed of how remarkably similar this was to Alex’s shield – wooden plate made out of different layered planks of pine wood and dimensions of the artefact (85 cm of diameter). Interestingly enough, the oxide they found on the surface of the shield suggest it would have been painted white and red, and evidence of a boss in the middle of the planks, suggest this would have been used in battle and not for ceremonial or decorative purposes.

The shield preserved and exhibited at the Trelleborg interpretation center
The shield preserved and exhibited at the Trelleborg interpretation center

Outside in the grounds of the site, you find the reconstructed buildings where a Viking community lives, and where they let you explore different aspects of everyday Norse life. There I bought some Viking coins and went to try to be a Viking.

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Here is where I found out I would have been an awful archer and I ate some porridge inside the long house in the way it would have been traditional for the locals at the time of Harald Bluetooth. I also had the chance to see the recreation of a shield wall – after my archery failure, I decided to just document the wall rather than to participate.


In addition, I saw the villagers crafting Nålebinding to keep themselves warm, as well as different embroideries to decorate their garments.

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Finally, I took a long moment to walk through the fortress. It was pretty magical.

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The cement posts visible from every angle really help bringing things alive in your head. The two roads that give the ring the shape of a cross are recreated from the original wooden paths that would have helped moving goods, people, cattle and men at arms. Just so you get an idea of the dimensions of the place, the inner circle has a diameter of 136 meters, with an inner rampart that is 17 meters wide by 5 meters high.

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The fortress would have held 16 houses in this ring. Access to the inner fortress is provided by a timber bridge stopping you from falling into the 4 meter deep ditch that encircles the moat. This was the most essential defense mechanism the fortress depended on. Then in the outer circle we would have found 15 extra houses, with more space between them.

Recreation of the fortress from the interpretation center
Recreation of the fortress from the interpretation center

We also find here the funerary site, where the archaeologists unearthed 135 graves, containing a total of 157 individuals. In total, the estimates advise that a total of 500-800 warriors could have been garrisoned in the settlement in bellicose times. If we think that Kronborg could have provided for 1000 soldiers standing siege for 6 weeks, some 500 years later, I think that can be considered as remarkable.

Recreation fo the fortress defense
Recreation of the fortress defense
How the garrison would have worked
How the garrison would have worked

Now, what is even better is that, if you go during the summer, and not in the middle of the low season like I did, you can enjoy Trelleborg at is best due to the Viking festival. Re-enactors of all over Europe come for the festival, where the amount of people and activities to take part in triplicate. Moreover, you can even camp in the grounds of the site, and feel just a little bit closer to 10th century Viking Age Denmark.

Yet, I must now depart. But we will have more of Denmark soon, for Denmark was not powerful only because of its fortresses…If you want to find out more of the history of this country, and explore more of it with me, then keep your eyes open for my upcoming post on the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum and the Domkirke!

Icons of Danish Heritage (pt. 1) – Kronborg Castle

Right, I know, I have gone down the rabbit hole, I’m never getting out of Wonderland now, but…Denmark was truly excellent and full of amazing things to see and visit!! Therefore, I have decided to do this blog post about two of the most emblematic places in Zealand that I visited. I think both of them hold great historical value, because both sites are internationally renown, but also because they represent the importance of this country within Europe. In addition, I believe they also symbolise important moments in the history of the area. Kronborg and Trelleborg reflect strong places of power for Denmark. Therefore, let me give you a quick tour of these amazing locations.

Kronborg Castle: Royal Palace, Hamlet’s Home and Site of Legend:

Kronborg Castle is around 50 minutes by train from Copenhagen. The town where it is located, Helsingør, is small but cosy. Right by the coast, this is an important stop for many ferries, and the spot has always been important for shipping but also for international relations – from here you can easily get to the Swedish post of Helsingborg…The names are not that similar as a coincidence…There seems to have been a strong connection between the inhabitants of both places, and in fact toponymy science suggests that the Danish port became a way for the to control the strait between the two countries. Anyway, Helsingør is lovely, but the castle is even better.

Covering an area of 16000 squared metres (including attics and basements), the bastion appears like an arrow piercing the sea. The fortress has been dated back to the 1420s, when Eric of Pomerania ordered for it to be erected. Back then, Denmark owned portions of the south of Sweden. So it was very important to keep these key locations secure. Ever since, the Danish kings took care of the castle: King Christian III supplemented the wall with bastions in 1558-1559. However, the castle could have not become the astonishing site that it is nowadays without the imput of Frederick II (1574-1585). He was the one who rebuilt the medieval fortress, and got it to evolve into the diamond-shaped bastion that it is nowadays (I’ll tell you all about these fortresses some other time…got an upcoming blog post about this soon!). But in essence, you may be aware of the military revolution taking place in Europe during this period and the prowess of the Swedish army back then…Frederick knew he had to step up his game if he wanted to keep his coastal assets safe. So he hired Hans Hendrik van Paesschen for this pursuit. And it is due to this shape developed in the Renaissance that the castle took the name of Kronborg, meaning Crown Castle. Now you know a bit more of the history, let’s get to know the building.

The tour of the castle takes you through ten different areas of the castle that are open to visit. I’ll talk you through them.  You go in through the Dark Gate: from here you can see a long dark tunnel that used to lead to the original entrance of the castle located at the Four-Gate Courtyard. Then, you enter the courtyard, where the statues of Neptune and Mercury guard the entrance. This is an allegory to the nature of the edification of the palace, as these were regarded as the gods of the sea and trade respectively.

The Four-Gate Courtyard Entrance
The Four-Gate Courtyard Entrance

Finally we get to the Castle Courtyard, where the work of Frederick shines, and where one can admire the fantastic architectonic features of the Northern European Renaissance, which is fairly different from the examples in mainland Europe  and the Mediterranean.Charming, nonetheless. In the middle of the courtyard there is a modern fountain that was put there to replace the original one from 1583. Unfortunately the 16th century creation was spoiled in 1658 when the Swedes seized the castle. From the courtyard you get access to the inside of the palace. Ahead await now the Telegraph Tower, the Chapel, the Royal Apartments, the Ballroom, the Little Hall and the Trumpeter’s Tower.

The Telegraph Tower is a flat-roofed, squared building on the side of the castle that used to serve as a cannon tower. It seems once it had a dome and a spire, much more fitting of the style and taste of Frederick II, however this seems to have been destroyed and then reconstructed during the siege of Kronborg (1658). Kronborg has been victim of many incidents – not only war, but also fire. In 1629 a fire damaged the vast majority of the interior of the castle. One of the few survivors was the Chapel, consecrated just a few years earlier in 1582. The Royal Apartments suffered greatly. They were first built by Frederick II, but the fire ruined them. However king Christian IV has them recreated for the inhabitation fo the palace as a royal residence.

Royal Appartments
Royal Apartments

The Ballroom, is now decorated with paintings made originally for the Great Hall of Rosenborg Castle (Copenhagen 1618-1831). Yet I think they suit well what used to be the largest royal hall in all northern Europe! Its dimensions are 62 x 12 meters.

The Ballroom
The Ballroom

Then we move on to the Little Hall, were the 7 surviving tapestries with the portraits of a hundred of the Danish kings survive. These were commission in 1580, and only handful more remain our of the original 40 commended by the king, currently exposed at the Nationalmuseet. And finally, we reach the highest point at Kronborg – the Trumpeter’s Tower. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but in case there was any doubt, the 62 meter tall tower was used for the announcement or warning of fanfares by trumpeters. Impressively enough, the spire has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice.

Telegraph and Trumpeter's Tower
Telegraph and Trumpeter’s Tower

Of course, one can then understand that such an impressive building would have captivated the imagination of any artist, and this is in fact what inspired Shakespeare to set Hamlet in Denmark, at Kronborg, or better known to the English folk as Elsinore. Currently, the castle holds a couple of spare rooms with small exhibitions of Hamlet and its performance at the castle, as well as holding a portrait of the British author. But, hold that broody moment of to be or not to be… just until we get outside, and start wandering the Casemates…These used to be the soldiers’ quarters while at war. The dark and damp vaults could hold up to 1000 men, capable of holding a siege for 6 weeks. But if you thought this could not get more atmospheric…You were wrong. As you walk through the gloomy corridors, full of spiderwebs, dust and barely illuminated by oil lamps (yes, still functioning), we find the statue of the legendary Holger Danske. The epic statue in commemoration of the mythical hero, is located in the very same spot where legend has it he rested after walking all the way from France, where he had aided the French to keep the country safe by might only known to Arthurian knights.  According to legend, Holger is taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay herself, and after his return from the mist, he rests at Kronborg, awaiting the day when his country will desperately need a hero of old. Holger, king under the mountain – almost in the same fashion custom to the dwarves of Erebor in Tolkien’s mythology…See a theme of English literature involving Kronborg? Interesting fact is that, during the Second World War, the largest resistance group in Denmark against the Nazis took their name after this legendary figure.

Holger Dansk
Holger Dansk

So if after this quick tour of the place the might and glory of Kronborg is not apparent to yourselves, then, I can only say, Go And See It For Yourself. Nevertheless, and in case you thought I went up to Kronborg just to see the castle…As it happens, during my visit a Renaissance fair was taking place in the ground of the palace. And of course, I took pictures. So with my photographs, I say farewell for now, but nor forever…Our next stop is Trelleborg where we will visit the roots of the power capable of erecting Kronborg, the Crown of the Baltic Sea.

Renaissance Fair Cavalry
Renaissance Fair Cavalry

 

Lilly’s “Copenhagen Cultural Rave” Continued – Rundertaarn and SMK

Ok, more from my trip to Denmark – yes, I do enjoy my cultural raves…- Today is just a walk through/review of the Round Tower and the National Gallery of Denmark. The reason why these 2 have been chosen – aside from the ones I have already talked about – is because they were in a way or another formative or educational from my point of view. I got to experience a part of history I was not familiar with and this gave me more insight into the country I was visiting and its culture. So, I hope that with my pictures and quick explanations, you get a hint of this!

Rundetaarn

The Round-Tower is located in the city center of Copenhagen and is one of the most symbolic monuments of all Denmark.

It is a pretty impressive building, you cannot miss it.
It is a pretty impressive building, you cannot miss it.

The building is 34.8 metres high, and the only way to access the top is a spiral ramp, which is 209 meters long and twists 7 times and a half around its hollow core. This is a unique feature, unmatched in European architecture. The venue is both an exhibition hall, cultural centre as well as the oldest working observatory in Europe. It was erected by King Christian IV between 1637-1642. The objective was for this structure to hold a university library, a student church – to which it is still attached, and the astronomical observatory. The library fit its purpose up until 1861. This university library must have been one of the largest in Denmark. Opened in 1657, it used to host a collection of 10000 books. After the collection was moved elsewhere, this section of building was used for various purposes, including an art studio as well as the depot for the Zoological Museum. Nowadays it has been restored to its original function as a learning environment – exhibition hall. Right above this room, is the Bell-Ringer Loft – currently holding the bells for the Church of the Trinity – annexed to the Rundertaarn. Instead it is used as another gallery with artefacts related to the building, as well as providing a look into the 1729 dated pinewood beams that form part of the structure. This part of the building is older due to its reconstruction after the great fire of Copenhagen (1728). On the way up to the observatory one can find the planetarium – a 20th century replacement for the original 3 dimensional model by Bayer from c.1740.

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The new planetarium

Finally, we reach the observatory – it wasn’t until I was up there that it occurred to me how important feature of Danish history this was. Since Peder Nightingale in the 13th century, Denmark has had a long history of astronomers. The most famous of which are Tycho Brahe and Christian Longomontanus – in honour of whom the facility appears to have been built. Brahe however died before its completion, yet Longomontanus seems to have been one of the first people to observe the firmament from this location as the first professor of astronomy as the university.  Perhaps Brahe’s most important work – multiple instruments aside – was the star-table that explained in accurate ways the movement of the moon and position of certain planets. Many say this work was crucial for Kepler’s laws later on. Ever since, the Rundertaarn has been

SMK – National Gallery of Denmark

The second part of todays post is regarding the SMK – National Gallery of Denmark.Again, like with the Nationalmuseet, I have been in many great galleries (NG in London, El Prado, Le Louvre, Uffizi), so in that sense I’m not inexperienced with big visual collections. And in that sense, perhaps the SMK cannot rival with the quantity of brilliant pieces that others may. However, what I think was the highlight of the exhibition was the opportunity to learn about some Danish and Northern European art! Europe is so prolific, with great artists all over, that somehow, somewhat, I was ashamed that the art historian in me couldn’t name a single Scandinavian artist that I genuinely knew – or liked! So this was rather enlightening. Pictures to come – In addition, the actual building itself was magnificent 19th century built with 3 levels – reminded me a lot of the Kunsthistorische from Vienna.

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The facade of the SMK

Yet this building is in itself a modern art revelation. As the collection grows, it is obvious the space within becomes smaller. Many have been the museums and historical buildings I have seen butchered by a clumsy modern addition or that have been dismembered in different buildings forming a complex where to hold the exhibition. Here however, Scandinavian design shines – Instead of breaking a wall or attaching something to it, they have expanded the back of the SMK with glass panels and metallic beams, opening the space and bringing in the bigger picture, the outside world that inspires these paintings. In fact, the display is rather artistic as it opens into the botanic gardens. I couldn’t think of a better way of creating a gallery for modern art than this. It just felt right.

In any case – the building is pretty big and it hold several collections. Time was precious so I had to choose. So I decided the way forward was: European art 1300-1800, Danish and Nordic art 1750-1900, and Scandinavian art since the 1900s. The European art gallery walked through works from Italy, Holland and the Flemish artists, France and its impact on Danish taste and culture, and a general overview of Scandinavian artists around this period.

In no particular order, here are some of the pictures I took - again no spacific reason for why these peices and not others, some because I like the artists, some because due to lighting issues the pictures would not look good. One thing that deeply surprised me was how close you could actually get to the pieces. At the National Gallery in London I was told off once for being at 50cm distance from a Rembrandt!
In no particular order, here are some of the pictures I took – again no specific reason for why these pieces and not others, some because I like the artists, some because due to lighting issues the pictures would not look good.
One thing that deeply surprised me was how close you could actually get to the pieces. At the National Gallery in London I was told off once for being at 50cm distance from a Rembrandt!

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Andrea Bregno (1418–1506) – John the Baptist and St Jerome

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Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s St John the Baptist c.1337-1342

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Pieter Brueghel den Yngre (1563-1637/8) – The Way to Calvary

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Peter Paul Rubens – The Ascent to Calvary c.1634 Noticed a theme in here with John and Calvary…Absolutly not intentional!

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Loved this room with the space in the middle to sit down, look, enjoy and learn as the sits are also bookshelves with reference material!

The gallery on Danish and Nordic art 1750-1900 has a pretty self-explanatory name, but I will elaborate a bit more. The way they have designed this section is by contextualisation. Therefore you get introduced into Danish art and its context within Northern Europe and other Scandinavian work. This is not divided in sections with only Danish, Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish art pieces, but rather it displays them all together, allowing the viewer to see the different artistic developments and influences across this area of Europe. Finally, there is also a smaller section which reflect on the borrowings from mainland Europe and the dialogue between Danish art and the input of other countries. Personally, I preferred this arrangement better than the one from the European gallery – I think it really helped seeing the cultural associations and trends, so for the ignorant I was, this was a much easier way to get tuned into Northern art.

Immediatedly became my favourite. By Peder Balke - Mount Stentind in Fog c. 1880
Immediately became my favourite. By Peder Balke – Mount Stentind in Fog c. 1880

Bottom right: Julius Paulsen -Midsummer Night at Tisvilde Beach 1886. Prins Eugene - Ships at Anchor.Winter 1908 and Gustav Fjaestad - The First Breath of Cold on the Water 1895 (left and top respectively)
Bottom right: Julius Paulsen -Midsummer Night at Tisvilde Beach 1886. Prins Eugene – Ships at Anchor.Winter 1908 and Gustav Fjaestad – The First Breath of Cold on the Water 1895 (left and top respectively)

Not only paintings but also sculpture...unable to identify this one as the names were on the walls away from the actual pieces
Not only paintings but also sculpture…unable to identify this one as the names were on the walls away from the actual pieces

These 2 are by the Danish artist Willumsen (1863-1958)
These 2 are by the Danish artist Willumsen (1863-1958)

This is the extension of the gallerywith view of the botanic garden
This is the extension of the gallery with view of the botanic garden

And with these, I close my third post on Denmark. Watch out for more to come!

Nationalmuseet: Middle-Ages to Early Modern Danish History

Right, this is part 2 I guess! This one is much lighter than my previous walk through the Prehistory Gallery. There are several reasons for that: a)time was pressing, b)my phone was running out of battery and so was the camera, c)the collection is being re-evaluated and some interesting items are not on display, d)the museum is aware their Pre-history collection is their forte. Therefore, I’ll through as much context as possible and when I can, but this is going to be a mostly photographic run through the second floor and several galleries of the National Museum of Denmark.

Medieval to Modern – through the lens of a camera

You like medieval polychrome art? Here is a room full of religious panes, all from Denmark.

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Did you say you also liked to see some medieval furniture? Here are some wardrobes and cupboards! I have Never seen anything like them!
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St. George and the Dragon – international medieval figure. The woodcarving was originally located in the north aisle of Husum church (Slesvig). However the church was demolished in 1807, thus the statue lives now in the museum. The group was carved around 1520 by Hans Bruggermann

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St. George again, from the Stokkemarke church in Lolland.c. 1500. In the museum I learnt that apparently, the Danish leper hospitals located outside many cities were indeed called St. George houses…

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Another medieval favourite: St. Martin. The relief dated from around the year 1500 and it was originally located in Bjaeverskov church (Sjaelland).

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The workings of a medieval clock!

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Ever wondered about the process of gilding? I have! I was deeply grateful for finding this panel showing the different stages and the method used. Another handy resource.
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This, my friends, is how crossbowmen of the 14th and 15th centuries protected themselves. It is called a “storm wall”. You may notice that the shield has some spikes at the bottom to ground it while the person firing the crossbow took refuge behind it and loaded safely, firing then through the triangular incision at the front. The museum interpretation indicated that the paintings on the shield may reflect that this had the emblem of a town in southern Germany.

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Yes, this is a drinking horn. This one in particular belonged to Henrik Christiernson Tornekrans, abbot of Soro. He died in 1538, so the museum estimates the horn probably dates c.1400.
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In the museum they had an entire cabinet full of reliquaries. This one however was the one that really grabbed me. It is believed to have been from Soro abbey, and dated from somewhere between 1200-1250. The representations are the flight into Egypt, the visitation and the annunciation, as well as the nativity scene and the shepherds in the field (image above). The Second image which is the other side of the reliquary represented the Three Magi (image below).

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Golden altar from Lisbjerb church, near Aarhus.

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One of the few surviving stained glasses from the Danish Middle Ages. It was explained in the display that stained glass would have been widespread, but for some reason it has not been very well-preserved and few remain. This one represents St. Martin. It belongs to the church of Bjerreby (Tansige), c.1200-1250.
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Display representing how the museum used to look and approach their representation of history. This is because the museum effectively is composed of several collections. According to the museum’s own text, the Nationalmuseet is in fact an arrangement of museums within a museum. The display represents the arrangements in the 1800s.

  It is worth explaining this in a bit more of detail. It seems that prior to the Nationalmuseet, the collections were part of the Kunstkammer. So effectively the rooms represent displays from the Oldnordisk museum, the Royal Ethnographical museum, the Royal Coin and Medal Cabinet, and the Royal Art museum. In addition, it counts with rooms from the Danish Folk museum. So a museum of museums…Interesting concept! I hope this explains to you a bit better the odd assortment of items so far, and those to come.

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Armillary sphere. Model of the universe signed by the German cartographer Vopel (1543).

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Bourgeois interior from Aalborg

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German crossbow from 16th Century Saxony
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All of these are Danish and German hunting weapons from the 16th and 17th centuries

And I am afraid here is where the fun ends in the Nationalmuseet!…However, more to come for I am a dedicated person and I got to many places in little time. Please stay tuned for more of my trip to Copenhagen!

Nationalmuseet: A Walk Around the Danish Prehistory Gallery at National Museum of Denmark

Hello everybody! I was very recently in Denmark exploring the land, trying to be a Viking and all that. Me being museum girl, I obviously ended in the Nationalmuseet…And I didn’t want to leave! This place holds the Best (and I meant that, truly) collection of pre-historic finds I have ever seen. Yes, I have been in the British Museum. Yes, I have travelled through France countless times, and yes the Altamira Caves are in my home land…Yet, I was blown away by this exhibition. The displays were fantastic. The information was neat, clear and well put together. There were handouts for those who wanted them, and the items were just amazing –  we are talking of things I had even study and seen in Powerpoint slides in my Undergraduate and Masters lectures. And I tell you, the pictures do not make them justice. So, with the information I gathered, some pictures I took (apologies if the quality is not at its very best) i will give you a walk about of why going to the Nationalmuseet is a must!…And you know the best part of this particular site? Yeah, It IS Free.

Entrance to the exhibition - clear and illustrative display pannels. Very well done in my modest opinion!
Entrance to the exhibition – clear and illustrative display panels. Very well done in my modest opinion!

The exhibition looks to walk through the highlights of Danish Prehistory, from the 13000 BC to the 1050AD. That means, technically from our point of view, that the include the Viking Age into their “prehistory”. This makes sense if we consider the lack of written sources, and the fact that there is a prolonged and sustained continuation of traditions and cultural patterns in the Old Norse, stretching from dare I say the Stone Age, up to our concept of the Early Middle Ages. Scandinavia was relatively isolated from the rest of Europe and that allowed for this status quo to continue for as long as possible…Some would argue that this changed with the appearance of the ruling dynasties of Northern Europe. However, my stand point is that the actual cutting point of old/ancient/whatever you want to call it Scandinavia is represented by the official adoption of Christianity as their religion – this is really what shook their world. Therefore, I am happy with this category and approach that the Nationalmuseet provides. In any case, the whole exhibition is composed of 24 rooms. I do not have pictures that necessarily follow this pattern, but I did a walk through the entire thing, so it should be well enough represented – if not room by room, nearly.

Starting in the Stone Age, the most striking and important archaeological find in the museum is the burial below.

The Vedbaek burial of a woman with her child. She must have been around 40 years old, and the child around 3. The flint knives on the child's body suggest it may have been a male.
The Vedbaek burial of a woman with her child. She must have been around 40 years old, and the child around 3. The flint knives on the child’s body suggest it may have been a male.

It has been dated from around 7000 years ago. The reasons of their deaths are unknown. However the skull of the woman presents and earlier injury on her neck – but it is difficult to determine if this actually killed her or not. She is also buried with a hair pin and the beak of a grebe.

More examples of the display pannels
More examples of the display panels

The following polished flints really grabbed my attention. If you have been in the Museum of London, you’d have seen similar things to this display. However the sheer quantity and clearly amazing craftsmanship sets them aside. The ones of the left of the picture were found in Maglehojs Vange, at the west of Copenhagen in 2001 during a drainage dig. The set on the right comes from Hagelbjerrggard near Ringsted. They were found in the 70s, while ploughing.

Hoard of flint finds 3700-3500 BC
Hoard of flint finds 3700-3500 BC

All the amber in the world: there were 5 display layers in total with amber found in Denmark
All the amber in the world: there were 5 display layers in total with amber found in Denmark

The next item is a beautiful piece of pottery (I could have photographed every vase in that case, because they were all brilliant, but this one is special).

Funnel bowl from Skarpalling, Himmerland c. 3100 BC
Funnel bowl from Skarpalling, Himmerland c. 3100 BC

The Skarpsalling Vessel, is one of the finest example of complex pottery design from the Neolithic. It was discovered in a burial mound, and its decoration is believed to have had ritual significance for the interment or the trip into the afterlife.

Moving on to the Bronze Age now – This picture was taken particularly for Alex! 🙂

2 swords from either Romania or Hungary. Dated from c.1600 BC, and found in Stendsgard and Torupgarde
2 swords from either Romania or Hungary. Dated from c.1600 BC, and found in Stendsgard and Torupgarde

The Egtved Girl is out next stop. This was a very important find for the understanding of textiles in pre-historic times. I am sure the picture I took shows why!

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The Egtved Girl Burial

The oak coffin contained the remains of a young woman, aged between 16-18. It is believed that she was buried during the summer of 1370 BC. The archaeologists even found some skin, hair and teeth. Her dress was composed of a knee-length skirt made of cords and a short woollen bodice (very “modern” in current fashion terms). She was buried with some yarrow plant too, which is one of the factors that determined her burial must have taken place during the summer season. She was also accompanied by the charred boned of a young boy, aged 5-6. Recently, she had been subject of controversy as it seem that the analysis of strontium of her hair and teeth, the experts have determined she was born in the area of the Black Forest (Germany). So we could be looking at the burial of someone special. She had would have travelled to get to Denmark, but for what reasons? Was she a slave? Perhaps a young bride? Or maybe some sort of seer or healer? The interment of yarrow may be indicating that this woman had some sort of otherworldly connection.

Now the next item is one of the reasons why I went to the museum. And you should too! I have studied this piece, and now that I have seen it close, I can confirm it is the symbol of an era.

Solvognen - The Sun Chariot
Solvognen – The Sun Chariot

The Sun Chariot. I remember a cold Winter afternoon, sitting in a lecture room hearing Dr. Nick Thorpe talking about the Bronze Age and bringing this up on the screen. There is no wonder this item has instigated curiosity in the heart of archaeologists, as there is no other like it in the world. The bronze, gold-plated disk dates from around 1400 BC. It is the epitome of Celtic believe: the Sun being pulled by a horse. These were the two biggest cults through the Bronze Age and that have been found all over Europe.

Moving on, the following is another controversial find. And one that clearly influenced the Viking myth of horned helmets.

Horned helmet from the bog Vikso Mose, near Ballerup (Northern Zealand). c. 900 BC
Horned helmet from the bog Vikso Mose, near Ballerup (Northern Zealand). c. 900 BC

No. I know what you are thinking, and no, these were not taken into battle! They were rather ritualistic items! In fact, it is believed that as they represent they horns of the bull (another important cult animal within Bronze Age believe), these would have been worn by a priest for ceremonial purposes. It is likely they would have been adorned by feathers at the ends of the horns, and perhaps horsehair in the middle like a crest. Also, consider how inconvenient horned helmets would have been while fighting! Particularly when made out of Bronze! – If you do not believe me, speak with Alex, and he will tell you everything you need to know about them.

Found in 1926, in Fardal (central Jutland). Supposedly women's ornaments: horses heads, bird figurine, kneeling woman and a snake. Dated from c. 800 BC
Found in 1926, in Fardal (central Jutland). Supposedly women’s ornaments: horses heads, bird figurine, kneeling woman and a snake. Dated from c. 800 BC

More displays of Celtic/Bronze Age believe. The Sun always leading the way. These two stones found in Zealand and dating from around 1100-700 BC, are an indicator of the long-lasting practice of this cult. The one of the left is from Jaegersborg Dyrehave, depicting the sun on a boat. The one of the right is portraying a dance in honour of the sun, and was found in Engelstrup.

Sun images

Display indicating the journey of the sun and its symbolism
Display indicating the journey of the sun and its symbolism. It was very nicely done, and never seen something so neat for this explanation, so I thought it may be appreciated.

Still in the Bronze Age, another epic (for the lack of other word) display in room 13.

Lurerne - Bronze Age Lurs c. 1700-500 BC
Lurerne – Bronze Age Lurs c. 1700-500 BC

These musical instruments are from the later end of the Bronze Age. They may not seem like much in this section of the picture, but the entire display case was as big as my bathroom – honestly, there was loads of them and in top condition. Their shape is probably modelled after an ox horn. It seems that in Danish finds, these instruments come in pairs, and are always found in bogs, where they were probably interred as sacrificial offerings. We know from Swedish rock carvings that lur players took part in processions, and it is likely their music was fundamental for ceremonial purposes.

Bronze-Age display of shields - almost perfect state of conservation!
Bronze-Age display of shields – perfect state of conservation!

Rune stones : they had a collectiong or like 4 or 5 of them. All dating from Pre-history up to the Viking Age.
Rune stones : they had a collection or like 4 or 5 of them. All dating from Pre-history up to the Viking Age.

Another big player in the Celtic world – The Dejbjerg Wagon. Again, in a lecture with Dr. Thorpe we had a vivid discussion about these artefacts. There have been several burials across Europe involving wagons. Therefore one can assume their sacrificial purpose is obvious, and in fact this one was dismantled and buried in a peat bog for that purpose. However, these items could be indicating more than just ritual. These would have been genuine methods of transport, even if locally – and this comes across as a certainty after having visited Trelleborg (I’ll talk about that in another post), where the settlement had a cross of wooden paths used to transport goods from side to side and out into the surrounding villages! I believe there are further studies relating to this concerning some wagon findings in Yorkshire that would suggest the same hypothesis. Moreover, these are great displays of power by the magnates of the settlements. So it is likely they may have been used in rituals of gift giving, carrying their master across the settlement while giving away treasure. In any case, they are truly remarkable.

The Dejbjerg Wagon
The Dejbjerg Wagon

Next, and jumping into the Iron Age, we have a fantastic piece, of international renown, and one of the master pieces of the museum. The Gundestrup Cauldron.

The Gundestrup Cauldron
The Gundestrup Cauldron

It weights nine kilos! And it was made c.100 BC in the Balkans, and then exported to Denmark. It was found once again in a bog burial, as a sacrificial item. Due to the great craftsmanship and incredible wealth, it is supposed this was offered to the gods rather than just buried with its owner. It is a pity I could not take a picture of the inside of the item (it is protected by a very thick glass), but the carvings are simply mind-blowing. It is decorated with all sorts of animals, mythical creatures, and deities.

Skin shoes found in the Ronbjerg Mose bog. In western Jutland, c.2-1 century BC
Skin shoes found in the Ronbjerg Mose bog. In western Jutland, c.2-1 century BC

Continuing with our Iron Age trip, we encounter this!

The Warship from Hjortspring
The Warship from Hjortspring

The vessel was unearthed in the 1920s out of the bog known as Hjortspring Mose, on the island of Als (Sonderjylland, south Denmark). It was built between 400-300 BC, and it is 18 meters long. It is the oldest find of wooden plank ship in Scandinavia. It contained several weapons, armours and war gear, indicating that its sinking may have been for ceremonial purposes (notice a trend?). A boat of these dimensions would have required a crew of at least 20 men, and it is supported that before it was sunk, it would have been in battle. The interpretation of the museum is that an army of around 80-100 men would have come to the island on a fleet of 4-5 of these boats. the launched the attacked but they failed, thus the victorious native population buried the ship with the belongings of their defeated enemies.

Finally, my last stop in the Danish Iron Age – the burial of a clearly wealthy lady.

The Woman of Himlingoje
The Woman of Himlingoje

It has been estimated that the deceased was around 40-50 when her life came to end. She was buried with a brooch inscribed with the name widuhudaR, which is male. So it is contested whether this is the signature of the smith that made the fine item, or a gift from a man to this female. Interestingly this burials presents a clear sign of Roman influence: a Charon’s coin was found in her mouth, as a way to pay for her passage into the afterlife. There are several pieces that are of Roman made in her grave: drinking vessels, beads and arms rings. The question remains whether she was of Norse or Mediterranean origin. Perhaps she was a native with clear connections with the empire, and that may have been the source of her power and wealth.

Ok so we are nearly finished now. I would just like to incorporate, and end this post as the museum does: with the Viking Age. To my surprise, there was a considerable lack of Viking artefacts on display. However, these is a legitimate reason for this. Many of you may know that currently there is an exhibition about the Vikings organised by the Nationalmuseet going around. It stopped at the British Museum in 2014 under the name Vikings: Life and Legend. So a few of these items are currently on loan elsewhere for different displays. Nevertheless, I captured a few things… These are of importance to me. Why these and no others. Well first for the lack of certain items as I just explained. Secondly, because they relate to my research! 😉

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Explanation panels of the Vikings

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Recreation of a typical Old Norse woman dress

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Yet another wonderful panel explaining the different art styles of the Viking Age. Nice and easy point of reference.

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An entire display showing the image of the Vikings in popular culture…Were you expecting me to miss it?

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2 traditional gilt bronze brooches. Interesting find this one from Lerchenborg, as they found inside the brooches beads of silver, glass and rock crystal, a Frankish costume brooch made of silver, another silver pendant with silver chain, as well as Frankish, Scandinavian and two Arab coins!

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More jewellery from the Viking Age – featuring more common pendants, and coloured beads. These would be part of anyones attire.

Well, this is all for me now. But there are more reviews and travel posts from my trip to Denmark coming up, so…Keep an eye out! Hope you enjoyed it, perhaps even as much as I did!

Basing House- Is it One of the Most Underrated Symbols of Early Modern British History?

As a man who has spent most of his life on Old Basing, the relevance of Basing House has been something often slipped by under my nose, even though I often saw memories of it on a daily basis. Yet on a recent trip to the ruins, unlike through previous visits during childhood, I was gripped by just how much history there was around the house. Of course as a child I knew that this was no ordinary ruins, but as I have grown older the significance blew me away. Basing House was perhaps one of the most underrated symbols of Early Modern British history, with every brick having its own unique history.

Basing House Gateway

For many of the residents of Old Basing, I’m sure they fail to realise on a day-to-day basis the significance of the land they step. For Basing House was a hub of activity, through the Tudor and the Stuart age. The house itself dates back to Medieval age, with the huge circular bank and defensive ditches of the castle still visible, following the famous Motte and Bailey castle layout. These were put in place by the de Port family, who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066, and in the 1100’s made Basing House their home. But it wasn’t until the Paulet family, with Sir William Paulet, the first Marquess of Winchester and Lord Treasurer of England, who decided to build what was the more recent picture of the Basing House that we all know in 1535.

Image of one of the many defensive ditches around the castle

It was this settlement in Basing which welcomed big names throughout British History, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I after her marriage in Winchester on her honeymoon and Elizabeth I on many occasions. It was such an important hub of activity in the Tudor era, with it being labelled as the biggest Private House at the time. The house played what we can imagine as such an important part within the village, having the canal run through with a link to Woking, allowing for good link ups to London, as well as providing trade to the area. It is weird to believe that the people of Old Basing will most probably be walking in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in English history.

The Tudor Family

Yet it was the when the English Civil War broke out in 1642, with a divide between the Royalist and catholic supporters of King Charles I, and the protestants who favoured a stronger parliament, when the greatness of Basing House played out in such a bloody battle. John Paulet, the fifth Marquess of Winchester was the resident of Basing House at the time, and very much kept to his family motto of: “Aymez Loyaulte” (Love Loyalty). As you can imagine, being close to the monarchy at a tender time like this did come at a cost, and led to Basing House being attacked by Parliamentary troops, something that happened on 3 occasions. However the house did not fall easily, and it took 3 years for the parliamentary forces to finally break the walls, with the final assault in August 1645 seeing 800 men take up positions on the walls. It wasn’t until Cromwell himself turned up with heavy artillery that the house had been breached in October 1645.

Image of Cromwell as the Storming if Basing House by Croft

In the last few days of Basing House as a real symbol of excellence saw a bloody battle break out in the Basing barn, and saw between 40 and a hundred people killed. Though this may not seem much now, back then it was a huge loss to the village, with the parliamentary troops taking pillage to the house, and soon a fire destroyed the building. Parliament called for the demolition of the building, with villagers allowed to take materials for their own building. Paulet was stripped of his estate, and sent to the Tower of London on a charge of high treason, yet this charge was later dropped and Basing House later returned to him by the restoration of Charles II. Later, Charles Paulet, son of John pulled down the house and moved his own family home to Hackwood, leading to the end of the importance of Basing House in this period.

Image of the Cannon at Basing House, with a range of hitting the AA building in the background of that photo

Unknown to many, the importance of Basing House has been something overlooked by people, and had been such an important symbol of the Civil war conflict in Britain. I myself had completely been naïve on just how much history Basing House had, and how it is still evident in modern-day. For years I had walked on the Old Basing Common, not realising that these were the old hunting fields of the house, and the battlefield where Cromwell led his army to take the castle. History was quite literally on my door step and had such an important role in the Tudor and Stuart periods, and was an important battlefield in the Civil War, without me ever knowing. I hope you have enjoyed reading this, and if you can, go visit Basing House!

Artist Impression of the storming

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

The Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth was a place I have been meaning to visit since first year and I eventually got around to it on a beautiful yet chilly January weekend (as the above photo suggests)! The dockyard is home to one of the world’s oldest dry docks that was commissioned during the reign of Henry Vii in 1495. It houses the remains of the ill-fated Mary Rose and Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. In the past Portsmouth has played a substantial role for defending the south coast of Britain throughout the years and still remains as an important base for the Royal Navy today. The following documents my key features of the day

Mary Rose

The Mary Rose was a Tudor warship that was completed during the early years of Henry Viii’s reign. It was thought to have been named after Henry’s favourite sister Mary. In spite of the ship sinking off the coast of Portsmouth, it had survived other previous campaigns against the French since 1512. During one of the earlier campaigns the Mary Rose was considered to have been a fast and nimble ship of the English fleet. However it is still best remembered for sinking at the Battle of the Solent on 19th July 1545. So how did the Mary Rose meet her downfall?

During the third war with France the French fleet under the orders of Admiral Claude d’Annebault set sail for England in July 1545 with 128 ships. The English fleet swiftly sailed back to Portsmouth harbour after not being able to oppose the French without heavy galleys. However the waters of the Solent made the situation far worse. The English fleet had only thirteen small galley ships to confront the French and was commanded by two larger ships, one being the Mary Rose. Unfortunately the wind force was particularly strong that day and the very early on during the battle the ship leaned sideways into the Solent and water started to come in through the open gun ports. Many men perished as the Mary Rose sank and it was estimated that 90% of the men on board died. It has been argued that more men might have survived if the anti-boarding netting was not on the sides of the ship. As well as open gun ports other suggestions have been put forth to determine why the Mary Rose sank so quickly. Some contemporary accounts suggest the crew did not listen to orders to other suggestions that the French actually succeeded in bombing the ship and as a result the Mary Rose sank.

Bones-

From the wreckage the Mary Rose is considered to be a snapshot in time. Many objects had been found from this period which include arrows, chests and even a variant of the game backgammon. For instance we can learn a lot about the men who were on the ship from the bones that have since been recovered. Common features that have been determined by the bones of Tudor seamen suggest many had rickets as the shape of the bones towards the lower leg bowed outwards, suggesting many men had a Vitamin D deficiency due to their diet and most likely from their life at sea. Other findings from the bones suggest scurvy, malnutrition and fractures too were common.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory was a ship that was launched in 1765. In spite of being launched in 1765 and experiencing battles at Ushant, Cape Spartel and Cape St Vincent. However she is best known as being the flagship of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Wishing not be buried at sea Lord Nelson wished to be buried on land after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. In order to preserve his body for burial he was placed in a cask that contained alcohol until HMS Victory made it back to England.

Punishment at sea on the HMS Victory-

Who would visit the HMS Victory without mentioning one the Royal Navy’s infamous disciplinary procedures, the Cat o’ nine tails. The Cat o’ nine tails was a multi-tailed rope that was used for physical punishment and weighed roughly 370 grams. They were administered on deck so that the crew would watch the punishment taking place it was thought this helped to deter other troublemakers of the crew witnessed the Cat. Boys at sea were however spared the Cat o’ nine tails but they were not spared an alternative form of physical punishment. They received a similar module to the Cat but it was made of softer rope and contained five tails not nine. Although a huge crowd did not gather for this punishment it was still however humiliating for the troublemaker as they were usually canned on their rear end. In order to stop the spread of infection salt was rubbed into the wounds of men. The whole point of this practice was to aid the perpetrator’s pain but salt added to the punishment as it made the wound sting further.